Arts and Entertainment
 

No shortage of thought and effort has gone into making this updated working of the Arthurian legend more than just a hot afternoon or evening at the theatre.

A dirty business

Musical theatre is not to be taken lightly. David Benedict reports in the name of entertainment

New dawn in the West

Rumours of the death of the West End have been greatly exaggerated. Georgina Brown finds reasons to be cheerful

Show people: A name for himself: Jeremy Northam: Jeremy Northam is a rising star at the RSC. But his loyalties lie with shows, not institutions

JEREMY NORTHAM is met by a gaggle of friends as he emerges from the stage door of the Barbican. Five minutes ago, he was being loudly applauded for his performance as Horner in Wycherley's The Country Wife, just in from Stratford. His face is still shiny with sweat and his voice rushed with exhausted excitement. As we walk through the deserted streets, looking for a pub, he calms down, the high replaced by a wary seriousness. His friends follow a few yards behind. I ask him what they think of his acting career. 'I don't know,' he says. 'They probably despise me.'

THEATRE / Out of the body experiences: The actress Kathryn Hunter is a master practitioner of the theatre of physical contortion, despite serious, permanent injury. By Miranda Carter

Kathryn Hunter was the chameleon star of Theatre de Complicite's 1990 hit, Help, I'm Alive]. By turns a pathetic old woman lamenting the departure of her son, a young girl in search of excitement, swinging precariously from a bar and taking an unhealthy interest in her knickers, and a fat, lecherous mafioso, scratching his crotch in anticipation of money and sex, she riveted attention. Her tiny body seemed both immensely supple and slightly askew, her use of movement at once acrobatically skilled and utterly un-English. There was something exotic and mysterious about her.

MUSIC / Modern, but a classic all the same

FOR ALL their personal motives, those Hecklers tweaked a nerve with the opera public. Must new music always provoke knitted brows and bafflement? The reactionary fogeys were notably absent from the world premiere of Judith Weir's opera at ENO on Wednesday. Perhaps someone had tipped them off. Blond Eckbert is dramatically riveting, not a minute too long, and you come away haunted by the plot and - here's a thing - snatches of tune. In short, the Coliseum has found itself an accessible modern classic.

The Worst of Times I've been an outsider since the 11-plus: John Godber talks to Danny Danziger

I failed my 11-plus, which was quite a shock as there were only two out of a class of 22 who failed. Everyone had expected me to pass, because my mother made me go to bed early, and that was seen as an indication I must be brainy. There was a massive stigma attached to failing your 11-plus, and I remember people being fascinated to discover somebody who had failed, it was like a Martian had landed.

Theatre: Notices

Nicholas de Jongh in the Evening Standard dismissed the play as 'pretty and witty but beside the point'. Benedict Nightingale told his Times readers 'I feel ill at ease in her universe, and so, I suspect, will most of you.' Neil Smith in What's On went to the nub of the issue, saying that 'as for the guys, they don't get much of a look in'.

THEATRE / Hello, hello, it's good to be back

Nicholas Hytner's sharp, smart and impeccably stylish production of Xerxes defined a late- 20th-century approach to the staging of Handel's operas when it first appeared at ENO in 1985. Obliquely camp, emphatically post- modern, it was a joy to watch from start to finish - which is more than you can say of most Handelian theatre - with a finesse of detail that was nicely judged to fascinate the eye but not obscure the music; and for its efforts it picked up a well-deserved Olivier Award. How much of the finesse survives now that the piece has been handed on to one of ENO's less inspiring staff producers for its fourth revival is an open question. But the basics remain, as do some of the previous personnel - including Christopher Robson and Yvonne Kenny (left), who were superb before, and the period-specialist conductor Ivor Bolton (likewise). The revival opens 14 Jan and continues 19, 21, 26, 28 Jan, 3, 9, 11, 14, 16 and 24 Feb. Box office: 071-836 3161. Michael White

Here is the news - of 1994: The arts

FRENCH and Saunders to split up amid tears and acrimony; Ken and Em likewise. BBC staff to throw a party for John Birt. A popular, figurative painter to win the Turner Prize . . . . OK, things in reality may be little more prosaic, though there are strong rumours of a sex scandal and a television chief. It may go unreported by News At Ten, however: that programme may not survive the year. Don't be fooled by the tactical retreat of ITV network chiefs: they are preparing a new salvo.

THEATRE / The Theatre Shows of 1994

JANUARY

DANCE / Up, up and away

THE choreographer Siobhan Davies is going one way - and it's up. She is a recent winner of an Olivier Award for outstanding achievement in dance, and her latest piece, Wanting to Tell Stories, shows there is plenty more where that came from.

THEATRE / Ace player finally makes it to King: As Robert Stephens takes on Lear, Irving Wardle surveys the mixed career of an actor without a mask

Robert Stephens has a horror of flashy roles in second-rate plays. He has tried to avoid them, but one has recently been thrust upon him in a sickly romance called The Return of Robert Stephens. This tells the story of a brilliant young actor who marries his even more brilliant co- star; and whose marriage and career then collapse into a mid-life pit of alcoholic waste. He is rescued in the nick of time when a childhood fan who has grown up to direct the leading classical theatre in the land invites his washed-up old idol to essay the role of Falstaff. The comeback is a huge success, garners an Olivier Award, and paves the way for a fairy-tale ending in which the long-dethroned hero ascends to glory, aged 61, as King Lear.

Leading Article: Not quite everyone needs opera

LAUNCHING English National Opera's new season yesterday, Dennis Marks, its general director designate, said the company was entering 'a period of renewal'. It was a nicely chosen phrase. The triumvirate that enabled the ENO to spearhead the opera boom of the Eighties is being replaced by a new team. Not all the productions of classics that delighted and shocked (not necessarily at the same time) when first shown in the Eighties have worn well. Reaction against them, coupled with the recession, has aggravated the company's financial difficulties, helping to create a burdensome deficit.

National's night of triumph: West End productions lose out as subsidised theatre dominates Olivier awards

SUBSIDISED theatre has rarely looked healthier than last night when it scooped 19 Laurence Olivier awards. The awards are presented by the Society Of West End Theatre; but the West End played second fiddle at the Dominion as the National Theatre, Royal Shakespeare Company, and Royal Opera House took award after award.
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